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Hawkins Co. commission halfway to $40 wheel tax increase

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HAWKINS COUNTY, Tenn. - It has failed seven times already but finally Hawkins County leaders could pass a $40 wheel tax increase. The commission approved a first reading of the increase Monday night.

It's a move to help balance the county's budget by July 1 for the 2017-18 fiscal year. If the wheel tax increase doesn't pass, the county budget will have a nearly $2 million deficit.

Last week the chief of staff from the State Comptroller's Office threatened the county with a state takeover of finances if commissioners can't present a balanced budget. He warned if the state intervenes, 100-percent of discretionary spending would be cut first. That includes contributions to county nonprofits including the library, the Humane Society, and Red Cross. It also includes about $19,500 for each of the eight county fire departments.

The president of the Hawkins County Firemen's Association, Tony Fugate, said that money is critical to keep the stations running.

"Without that funding, there's no doubt in my mind there will be fire departments that will have to close within the year," Fugate said. "If not this year, in the next two years there will be fire departments that will have to close. There's no way around it."

The resolution would increase the wheel tax indefinitely. It will have to pass a second reading next month to balance the budget.

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